Thai people's rights severely curtailed over the past year

Thai people's rights severely curtailed over the past year

Citizens' civil and political rights have suffered severely over the past 12 months since the May 22 coup, and there are no signs of things improving in the foreseeable future, human-rights experts and activists have said.

Indeed, some have warned that Thais might become so used to their rights and liberty being curbed under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), that they start seeing it as normal.

"Human rights in all aspects have been in a free-fall since the coup and there is no hope for improvement," Sunai Phasuk, Thailand's senior researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said.

Sunai added that though martial law has been lifted, it has really only shifted to Article 44 from the interim charter, which gives NCPO chief and Premier General Prayut Chan-o-cha absolute power "to rule at whim with impunity" and restrict all fundamental rights, including press freedom and freedom of association.

He said no dissent or criticism of the junta is tolerated by the NCPO.

"Nobody is allowed to disagree with the junta's roadmap. Political participation is not allowed and political leaders are told that they cannot hold meetings," he said, claiming the process of drafting the new charter and the return to democracy was a "total sham".

"How can we hold free and fair elections?" he asked.

Another key point he raised was the trying of civilians in military courts. He said these were not fair and did not meet international standards.

Yingcheep Atchanont, manager at iLaw, an NGO that specialises in legal reform and human rights, said Thailand had been in a fairly critical situation over the past 12 months in regard to the violation of human rights.

According to iLaw, at the end of April, 751 people had been summoned by the NCPO, with 159 politically charged, 124 being tried at military courts, and 45 being tried for lese majeste offences.

"Another indicator is the shutting down of the red-shirt television channel," Yincheep said in reference to Peace TV.

While he found the figures disturbing, he also said there was a high risk of people becoming used to having their rights and liberty curtailed.

"There may be fewer arrests and searches conducted, but Article 44 can still be used and freedom of expression will definitely not improve," he predicted.

High-profile Red Sunday Group leader Sombat Boonngam-anong is among those being tried in military court for voicing opposition to the coup. He said people must remind themselves that they're living under a regime that came from a putsch, so people's rights and liberties were at stake.

As for the future, he also wondered how a free and fair election could be held when politicians are still being banned from holding meetings.

"They think this 'peace' is stability, but they don't give any importance to liberty. Perhaps we will have to wait," Sombat said.

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